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All the Difference

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"I know I'm insane." For the first time that day, Spike lifts his head to look Angel in the eye. "Spent a century with Dru, so's not like I don't know the signs."

He studies Angel for a moment, his eyes lucid and clear, and then turns away, bows his head to stare at his bitten-to-the-nail fingers as he idly traces images to the dust.

Once again, Angel wants nothing more than to grab those hands that he knows have touched Buffy, to pull Spike up from the floor and shake him, bash his skull in and throw him out into the sun. Because the truth of it is that soul or no soul, Angel would gladly sacrifice the mad creature before him for even the smallest chance of having Connor back. Lose a son only to have another one put under his charge like some further punishment from the Powers for failing his mission.

But family is family, even the kind that you'd rather just lock in a box and throw into the ocean. Ha ha.

"They wanted to send me off to the countryside, when my da died, did you know?" Spike's quiet voice is vaguely familiar, summoning the ghost of a prissy Victorian man with tousled hair and a heart on his sleeve. "But mother said 'no', said she needed a man about the house." His face twists into a grimace, like he'd just tasted something foul. "Man about the house," he repeats, and then shakes his head. "Not a man anymore"

Of course, it had always been there, that mad little glint in Spike's eyes. Not Drusilla's hysterical insanity, but something deeper, darker. And Angelus had fed it, had taken pleasure in nurturing that little flame, sculpting neurotic William into psychotic Spike.

As he listens to Spike rant, Angel touches his own chest, feeling for the scars that have healed away a hundred years ago. A vampire would have to be mad to ask for a soul.

The door to the basement opens, and Angel doesn't need to take his eyes off Spike to know that it's Buffy. She pauses at the door to turn on the lights and then descends the stairs slowly, careful not to spill the blood from the two mugs she carries.

"How is he?" She asks, passing one mug to Angel.

"The same."

She gives no reply to his words, but he can hear the disappointment in the slight change of her pulse as she crouches down next to Spike.

"You need to eat," she says, holding the mug in front of Spike.

Spike eyes her warily, but accepts the mug, taking a small hesitant sip before pushing it away again. Blood spills on his hands and on Buffy's when she tries to stop him, and she lets out a quiet sigh as she puts the mug on the floor and wipes her hands on an old rag.

"Bad man," Spike mutters, his bloody hands twisting in his hair. "Bad, bad man."

Buffy's breath hitches, but again she says nothing, her face a mask when she stands up and reaches behind Spike to fasten the chains on the wall.

"I'm sorry," she finally whispers, her voice trembling. "You'll be safer this way."

Her hand lingers on Spike's wrist when she checks the manacles, fingers tracing the bright red chafe marks on his pale skin. Spike's eyes follow her hands, but when he looks up, he seems to look right through her, his eyes focused on something invisible just beyond the walls of the basement.

"I'll be back soon, Spike." Buffy says, and Spike frowns, as if surprised to find her there. He reaches forward, and carefully brushes his hand against Buffy's. When she doesn't flinch away, he takes her hand, their fingers entwining, and smiles.

"No, you won't. But thanks for saying it."

Angel can smell Buffy's tears as she stands up and pushes past him, taking the stairs two at a time. He watches her disappear upstairs, and then gives Spike one last look before following her. Behind him, Spike begins to sing.

Buffy is waiting for him outside the basement, avoiding his eyes as she closes the door behind her. There is a slightest tremor on her shoulders as she turns the key in the lock and then, for a second leans her forehead to the door as if she was too tired to hold herself up.

Turning away to give her privacy, Angel puts his hand to his pocket, pulling out the amulet. It's heavy and warm in his palm, pulsing with power like a still-beating heart freshly torn from a living chest.

"Are you ready?"

Buffy's eyes when she looks at him are red-rimmed, but her expression is determined, her whole body tense like a bow ready to fire.

She takes the amulet from him and slips it around his neck, the heavy weight settling on his chest. She gives him a sad smile and then pulls him to a hug.

"Let's go be heroes," she whispers to his ear, her voice still heavy with tears, before letting go.

The girls are already crowding in the front yard, their faces pale and drawn as they clutch their weapons, and Angel has never felt so old. He grabs a blanket and steps into the sun, but even then he can still hear the quiet sing-song voice echoing from the basement.

"Ashes, ashes, we all fall down."